CARACAS (Reuters) - Several dozen militant backers of Hugo Chavez on Monday stormed the headquarters of an opposition TV station that the Venezuelan president has threatened to shut down amid his crackdown on private media.
Activists with the UPV, a radical left-wing party that backs Chavez, forced their way past security guards to enter Globovision headquarters in Caracas and fired tear gas inside the compound, images broadcast by the TV station showed.
Globovision, a small but critical station, broadcasts news programing and has been highly critical of Chavez. Chavez’s government condemned the attack, although Globovision’s owners said they suspected the president was behind the incident.
The intruders waved UPV banners and wore red berets like the one that Chavez often wears. Workers at Globovision said the intruders threatened them with guns.
Globovision said a police officer guarding the station was injured in the incident.
The incident took place on the same day that the Venezuelan government temporarily took control of two of the country’s largest coffee roasters and threatened to nationalize them.
“In the name of the Bolivarian government we firstly want to condemn this attack energetically and reject this type of violent action against Globovision,” Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said on the state television channel VTV.
“We don’t accept that violence be the instrument to solve our differences,” said El Aissami.
Simon Bolivar, a 19th century South American independence hero, is often cited by Chavez as an important inspiration.
Globovision’s owners blamed Chavez, a former coup leader who has been in power for more than a decade and says he leads a socialist revolution in the South American country.
“I can only think it was an order from Miraflores,” said Globovision President Guillermo Zuloaga, in reference to the presidential palace.
The Chavez administration in recent weeks heightened measures to control private media companies. The government over the weekend shut down 34 radio stations and said it was investigating 120 more for alleged irregularities.
Critics say the government is seeking to silence dissent and muzzle freedom of speech.
Authorities last month hit Globovision with a $2 million fine for back taxes, and officials have twice raided its president’s property, saying he illegally resold cars and kept stuffed wild animals. Authorities have said they are studying further measures against Globovision.
Widely watched RCTV, a TV channel critical of the government, went off the air in 2007 because the government failed to renew its broadcasting license.
Editing by Will Dunham